Architecture for Autism - An Introduction

With Expert Insights From:

Dr Magda Mostafa is an Associate Professor at the American University in Cairo, Special Needs Design Associate at Progressive Architects and CP-Director of UNESCO-UIA Education Commission.

According to research autistic spectrum disorders have a prevalence of approximately one in 68, with around 17% of children with ASD progressing from schools into university. With pedagogy moving increasingly toward social and collaborative learning and the very core of ASD being social and communicative difficulties, it is unsurprising that those students with autistic spectrum disorders find navigating higher education as challenging as ever, despite the increased awareness and dedicated support centres present in establishments across the UK.

As learning becomes more interactive and collaborative so, too, do the physical spaces that it takes place in. These environments, well designed, have been found to contribute to enhanced student engagement my fostering active learning and keeping students on-campus. As in any case of success, however, the drive to replicate has meant that university campuses are becoming increasingly filled with ‘social’ learning areas, with any part of a corridor or circulation area that can accommodate seating and tables considered ‘fair game’ for ad hoc meeting space.

This image looks at how the design of a corridor can be reviewed with Autism in mind

Unfortunately, the increase in areas for students to congregate without full consideration for acoustic impact, spatial configuration and density of people means that campuses are becoming increasingly difficult for neurodiverse students to navigate.

Magda Mostafa, Associate Professort at the American University in Cairo and internationally acclaimed expert on design for autism designed the worlds first set of criteria for designing the built environment for autism.

The ASPECTSS™ Design Index is an evidence-based set of guidelines developed over a decade of research. The index is comprised of seven criteria and is used both to assess existing environments and to aid in the design and development of new spaces.

world’s first set of criteria for designing for autism, the ASPECTSS Design Index
world’s first set of criteria for designing for autism, the ASPECTSS Design Index

Over a series of upcoming articles we will look in detail at what each area of the index means for the design of higher education learning spaces and how these elements can be implemented in existing learning spaces to enable greater accessibility and develop more inclusive learning spaces.